10 ways in which your language learners could be using their smartphones

Mobile phones in class
So much technology… Shouldn't we be finding ways to exploit it?

Check this next time you're in class: how many smart devices are there in the classroom? I suppose it's kind of sad, but most times when I ask that there are more smart devices than people.

That being the case, rather than turning all that amazing technology off and putting it away, and turning on a single computer and the projector, could we find ways in which we could exploit smart devices — ways which would lead to more language learning?

In our Friday workshop series, we have one this week (10.00-12.00, November 27th) which will look at 10 ways in which your language learners could be using their smartphones, some in class, some out of class.

Bring your phone!

Books and links of interest
For lots of ideas on practical tips, I can highly recommend two excellent books from DELTA Publishing. And here's a couple of useful links on the subject:

Mobile pedagogy for English language teaching: a guide for teachers

Tables and apps in your school

If you have a subscription to OneStopEnglish, you'll also find an article of mine there on using mobile phones for images, audio and video.

Previous posts on using mobile phones with learners

Do you really want to invest in 500 iPads?

iPads ! Cool !!! But what would you actually do with them in language teaching…?

On our Director of Studies (DoS) course the week before last, the subject of iPads came up, specifically what a school should do with the iPads it has already purchased.

That's in fact probably a question that ought to have been given careful consideration before the purchase was ever made and there are others, too.

Some time ago now, I was asked to advise on whether or not another language school should invest in a very large number of tablets — in excess of 500 (!), that was.

In approximate order of the urgency in which they need to be considered, these were the issues that I raised:

  1. Number 1, the provision of wifi. If the school doesn't have an excellent wifi network, providing fast, excellent coverage to ALL classrooms, I'd forget the whole idea. At IH Barcelona, we've seen a spectacular increase in the number of people using our wifi network; what was excellent a year ago is now at times swamped by the demand for it.
  2. Who is actually to buy the tablets? The school or the learners? As technical support, I'd not want to be responsible for either the security and maintenance of a large number of tablets, or the installation and updating of apps on them. If the learners use their own, none of those will be the school's responsibility. You really wouldn't want to have to do that in a school unless you had in-house technical support with time on their hands!
  3. Are tablets necessary, anyway? What percentage of the learners are bringing their own tablets and smartphones to class in their bags and pockets? If that number is anywhere above about 33%, personally I wouldn't even consider buying them as a school but get the teachers to make use of the technology the learners are bringing to class (but in that case, make sure that you've dealt with #1, above).
  4. What is their intended use? That is, what pedagogical purpose/s are they going to serve? What exactly are the learners going to do with them? And will doing that mean that they learn more, better and faster?
  5. What training is going to be provided for teachers? I"ve left this one to #5, but if the answer to this question is "None" or "It's not necessary", I'd veto the whole idea (not, regrettably, that the IT people ever get power of veto 😉 !)

Assuming that we have clear answers for 1-5, I'd then and only then start to look at what makes and models can be obtained at what price (and I would not be blinded by the bullshit about how iPads are better than anything else!).

I've not included it in the list above, as I've made the assumption that the whole idea behind buying tablets is not just to look more modern in the eyes of the prospective student! It's not just a publicity gimmick, is it? I've seen far too many "initiatives" involving technology that in essence were that, virtually all of which have been fiascoes.

All in all, I would much rather see money spent in a language school on tablets than on interactive whiteboards (now there was a gimmick if ever there was one, unless you could really come up with truly interactive actitivites for it).

But I suspect that, given that so many learners now have their own smartphones, funds would be better spent on (1) training teachers to use technology better; (2) providing better in-house technical support; and (3) on subscriptions to things like school access to OneStopEnglish (€450 a year for up to 10 teachers) and the pro versions of tools like Animoto (€120 per year), Glogster (from $39), GoAnimate (from $99) or the amazing VideoScribe ($138).

Those tools don't come cheap, but what amazing things your learners (and your marketing team!) could do with them.

Going mobile? You should be!

There's another excellent book just out in DELTA Publishing's excellent teacher development series.

Like the others in the series, Going Mobile — by Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney — is short (120 pages), user-friendly and well-organized, and full of practical ideas that the teacher can take into class and try out, with good sections on some of the challenges and issues that are likely to arise.

If you are a language teacher who has never had your learners take out their smartphones and use them for a classroom activity, the book is conveniently organised from "simple to more demanding tasks".

I'd always suggest starting with easy tasks if you're never made much use of technology in a classroom — in fact I never do anything complicated: you want language-rich tasks, not technologically-complex ones.

To give one example from the book,"Talking trash" has the learners "take a photo of rubbish and record the story of how it got there" — to be done in pairs, thus ensuring that the interaction, the negotiation and the other language practice opportunities are as important as the technology.

Getting learners to photograph and share things via a WhatsApp group works so well (apart from anything else as it's so motivating) and if you — they! — start to look, it is amazing what people throw away. An example:

If there are privacy issues (and there are!), an alternative to WhatsApp would be to have learners use their phones to take the photographs, but share via another excellent app, Tackk.

All language teachers should surely by now — 15 years into the 21st century! — be taking advantage of the technology learners are carrying around with them in their pockets. Apps like WhatsApp and tasks like podcasting (for which I'd recommend Spreaker) afford so many opportunites for language practice and learning!

In my talk at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference (February 6-7), I'll be arguing that, in language teaching, we've got lost: we've ignored the signs of the times and blithely carried on making photocopies while our learners are making SnapChats. You want — and need — your learners to "go mobile", and this book will help you into that process.

Find out more about the book (contents, sample activities, videos, etc) on the publisher's site.

Also highly recommended, in same series: Teaching Online, which Nicky wrote with Lindsay Clandfield.

Also of interest

A photocopier or an iPhone: which is more powerful?

The slide, above, comes from a session I gave on a CELTA course at IH Barcelona last week, during which I asked the question which gives this post its title, referring to their possible use in a language classroom.

I asked the trainees to place the two tools on a scale of 0-10. "What's a '10'?" someone immediately asked, a question which I perhaps hadn't given sufficient thought to in advance (!). I said "mind-blowing", and then altered that to "mind-blowingly amazing"… And then said, "Actually, a '0' is mind-blowing, too: mind-blowingly boring".

My point was that in order to take full advantage of the potential technology has nowadays, we need to get "beyond the photocopier" and start using — start our learners using, that is — some of the (to my mind) far more powerful tools available to us (and which are quite possibly in our learners' bags and pockets).

To see some of those possibilities, and to keep up with how technology is/should be changing education, I suggested the sites also shown in the slide:

They are perhaps particularly good on mobile technology (smart phones and tablets) and current trends (like the "flipped classroom"). They do have a tendency on occasions to be a little vague and short on actual practical ideas (though here's an activity that has worked great!). But, apart from helping you to keep up, they have another bonus: they make you think.

Articles posted on such sites are often in the format "10 ways to…". They sometimes then disappoint when you start to read them but it's interesting first to try and make up your own "10 ways", before reading the article. A couple of recent examples:

To "follow" such sites, you probably want Twitter or an RSS feed (for which TheOldReader or Flipboard, the latter for mobile devices, would be my choice).

So which is more powerful…? As I remember it, my trainees' highest score for both was an "8". Feel free to disagree (I do!) in the comments!

Edmodo: some of the features well worth exploring

Despite the fact that there have been a few grumbles about the latest updates to it, Edmodo remains my favourite Web 2.0 tool for use with language learners of all ages.

Besides its privacy, the fact that it's super easy to set up and use (especially to anyone familiar with Facebook) is one reason why it's so successful (and passed 15 million users a while back), but if you delve into it below the bonnet it also comes with some amazingly powerful tools.

The following are well worth exploring…

  • Assignments, which allow your learners to (digitally) "hand in" work before your chosen deadline
  • Badges, which you can create and award, and are especially popular with young learners
  • Communities, eg. Computer technology, which are big (some huge!) macro groups for teachers
  • Co-teachers i.e. having two teachers, and their students, in the same group (it's fabulous to share with another teacher and their group in another country!)
  • Your library, which lets you share documents, links etc with the whole group (and with different groups)
  • Moderation of posts and replies (i.e. you approve them before they appear, in fact a feature I prefer not to use, unless a discussion ever gets too heated!)
  • Mobile, with both an app and a version for iPads and other tablets being available
  • Your Planner/Calendar, which is designed to keep both you and your learners organised!
  • Polls [see video], one of my favourites, though I think they work best if you say "Answer the poll and then explain your answer in the comments"
  • The Progress/Gradebook, which automatically adds the scores for Assignments and Quizzes
  • Quizzes, which are much more complete than polls, and would allow you to create tests and exams (but that's not the most powerful, most interesting feature of Edmodo!)
  • RSS feeds, which enable you to bring in content from a blog or news site such as the BBC
  • Small groups, which allow you to create (private) groups-within-a-group so that in a class of, say 25, you can have 5 small groups of 5 working together
  • Tagging posts, which makes them easier to find afterwards Now missing in the latest update

Most of the links above are to the excellent Edmodo Help Centre, which in fact will solve virtually all the possible questions about Edmodo that you might have.

The Edmodo Support Community is also excellent and the Edmodo Blog (and/or Twitter feed) well worth following.

See also | Top 10 tips for starting with Edmodo